Accomplishing a seemingly impossible goal, the novel sustains the quality and language of a short story for 320 pages. Shearn exceeds at painting characters and relationships – particularly the bond between surrogate Susannah and father Julian; an adopted child himself, Julian feels a strong pull to the woman carrying his first blood relative–much to the chagrin of his wife, Kit. The book’s POV, a shifting third person with hints of omniscience, is ambitious and ultimately succeeds. Especially praise-worthy is the narrator, whose tender revelations refrain from passing judgment, even when characters are at their ugliest.
How Far… has its flaws; occasionally the gorgeous prose turns purple or suffers from simile fever — and the climax feels too conveniently plotted and melodramatic. But ultimately this is an emotionally sophisticated first book, well-written and well-crafted. Like its narrator, readers will feel more inclined to engage with the characters than to judge them.